If you’ve owned a 2002-2005 Thunderbird since new, chances are you’ve already faced this problem; a seemingly common replacement part, say a piece of interior door trim, gets scratched or dented and needs to be replaced. No problem, you think. Your Ford dealer should have one in stock on the shelf. In a worst-case scenario, it will have to be ordered from the warehouse in Detroit, and will take a few days to reach your dealer. Then the parts manager gives you the bad news: “Sorry, that part is no longer serviced by Ford.”
What? Maybe your Ford parts man misunderstood you. “I didn’t bring my Thunderbird in for service, I just need to order a part.”
The parts manager clarifies what he said. “The part has been discontinued.” As in “No longer in production … No longer available for purchase … Sold Out … None left … Gone.”
Wait, you think to yourself. “How can that be?” The 2005 Thunderbird is barely ten years old. How can replacement parts be unavailable? This isn’t a ‘Yugo,’ it’s a Ford. Not just any Ford mind you, but a Thunderbird. A Ford ‘Living Legend.’ The iconic nameplate that debuted in 1955 as the answer to the famous Chevrolet Corvette. The classic American two-seat convertible memorialized in song by the Beach Boys.
How could parts for a 10-year-old American-made car be out of production and unavailable?
Good question. But don’t expect any answers from your Ford dealer. The simple truth is, Ford doesn’t care.
But wait a minute you think, there are over 68,000 other Thunderbird owners out there who need replacement parts. Certainly Ford will make more, right? Wrong!
Don’t count on Ford to start producing replacement parts for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird … it won’t happen. Ford, like other auto companies, produces a certain number of OEM replacement parts for every car and truck it builds. Once inventories of those parts are gone, except in very rare instances, that’s the end of the line for original factory replacement parts.
But I also own a 1957 Thunderbird and I can find any part I need for it, brand new.
That’s probably true. What you’re buying are aftermarket reproduction parts, made by specialty manufacturers who are licensed by Ford to produce them. The 1955-57 Thunderbirds are highly-collectible classics and their high market values and desirability make it feasible and profitable for aftermarket companies to reproduce parts for them. 20-30 years from now, the same may be true for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird, but for now there’s just not sufficient demand and market values aren’t high enough to make a viable case for aftermarket companies to reproduce parts.
But I can still buy brakes, hoses, belts and spark plugs. Why are those parts available but others aren’t?
Common maintenance-related parts are often ‘generic’ … they fit more than one make or model car. Because of their wider application, and therefor larger potential market, aftermarket suppliers can build and sell some parts profitably. But when it comes to year and model specific trim and body parts like doors, wheels, seat replacements and interior trim, there just isn’t enough demand to justify the high cost of tooling and manufacturing.
Can’t Ford just use the old tooling to make more replacement parts to meet customer needs?
It’s not that simple. Ford, like other car makers, outsources much of the production of accessories, components and trim to contract suppliers and vendors. Ford commissions an initial run of parts to produce vehicles it sells, along with a certain number of surplus parts for dealer inventories for repairs and replacements. Once the contract is fulfilled, Ford may allow the supplier to retain the tooling for additional production runs. But if the supplier chooses not to manufacture more parts, the tooling, which belongs to Ford, must be returned. Once that tooling is returned, Ford may make it available to other licensees to build additional parts. If no one wants it, the tooling is stored, and eventually destroyed … storing and warehousing old tooling is expensive and requires a lot of storage space.
What about the 2002-2005 Thunderbirds that are still under factory warranty or Ford ‘Extended Service Plans?’ What happens if parts needed for warranty repairs are unavailable?
All of the original factory warranties on the 2002-2005 Thunderbirds have expired. Ford, however, sold thousands of ESPs (Extended Service Plans), that are still in effect. In fact, owners of 2005 Thunderbirds can still purchase a new Ford-issued ESP until around September or October of 2016. For those 2002-2005 Thunderbirds still covered by extended service plans, finding replacement parts is becoming a growing problem. Some Thunderbird owners have waited weeks while their cars sat in dealer service bays, waiting for a part that is on ‘back order.’
What does it mean when my dealer tells me the part I need is on ‘back order?’
Typically when a part is on back order, it means that Ford is waiting for a supplier to do another production run, or that Ford is waiting for enough order volume to justify doing another run. Back ordered parts usually have ‘release dates.’ Release dates are estimates of when an out of stock part might become available again, but release dates are often ‘pushed back’ to a later date, waiting for additional dealer requests to warrant a new production run.
What does it mean if a part is shown as ‘back ordered,’ but does not have a release date?
Some parts are listed in dealer’s computer systems as ‘back ordered,’ but do not have a ‘release date.’ This means that a ‘back order’ has been entered, but there is no scheduled production or ‘release date’ when the part will become available. This can occur for a number of reasons. Here’s an example of some typical notes in a Ford dealers computerized parts locator system:
FORD OEM 02-05 Thunderbird-Quarter Panel Right 1W6Z7627840BA
40516 COMMERCIAL ISSUE: SUPPLIER UNABLE TO SHIP TO SERVICE NEAR
40516 TERM DUE TO TOOLING ISSUE, RESOLUTION IN PROGRESS
40516 IF OFF-BACKORDER DATE IS BLANK OR 00/00/00, THEN NO OFF-B/O
40516 DATE IS KNOWN
When you order a back ordered part from your Ford dealer, all he knows is what the ‘system notes’ tell him. As you can see, these notes don’t provide much information, and don’t provide a date when or if a given part will become available. The note, ‘Tooling Issue’ could mean a number of different things. The tooling may be damaged, or the tooling may have already been destroyed. Or, the tooling may be in transit. Some tooling, especially tooling for large body panels, can weigh many tons. It can be expensive to transport and require special equipment for installation and set-up.
Who decides which 2002-2005 Thunderbird parts will be ‘obsoleted’ and discontinued and which will be scheduled for remanufacture?
In a corporation as large as Ford Motor Company, decisions are typically made by committee and can take many weeks or months to be approved and implemented. Replacement parts for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird are not a priority. Despite the loyalty and dedication to the Thunderbird by owners and collectors, to Ford executives it’s just another 11-14 year-old car. Modern auto companies are focused on profitability, not nostalgia. Decisions to build or discontinue any given make or model are based on the numbers and driven by the bottom line, share value, and shareholder interests. In response to a question about parts availability for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird, a Ford executive recently told me, “It’s a 10-year-old car. Replacement parts are hard to find for a lot of older Ford cars.” That’s little comfort for the owner of a 2002-2005 Thunderbird who is in desperate need of a vital replacement part like an electronic module or even rear coil spring.
What can I do if the part my Thunderbird needs isn’t available?
There are a few options:
- Search online for obsolete parts available through obsolete suppliers and private sellers.
- Scour auto dismantlers, salvage yards and junk yards looking for a used part.
- Talk to other Thunderbird owners to see if they know of anyone ‘parting out’ a 2002-2005 Thunderbird.
- Try to live without the part. If it’s not a part essential for the basic operation of your car, say a trim or appearance part, you may be able to drive and enjoy your Thunderbird without it.
- If you’re just tired of dealing with unavailable parts and all the inconvenience that goes with it, it may be time to sell or trade your Thunderbird. This is a difficult decision, especially for owners that really love their cars. But at some point, repair and replacement issues can just become too much to put up with. And as the 2002-2005 Thunderbirds get older, repairs, maintenance and parts availability will become a bigger issue.
OR, you can call us! Powersport/Thunderbird Specialties is the oldest and largest company of its kind, specializing exclusively in parts and accessories for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird. We offer the largest selection of OEM replacement parts, performance upgrades, custom accessories and collectibles for the 2002-2005 Thunderbird available anywhere. If we don’t have it, we can find it. If we can’t find it, it probably doesn’t exist.
Don’t give up on your 2002-2005 Thunderbird! Call or e-mail us first. We’ll save you time and money and give you answers to your questions that your Ford dealer doesn’t have.
Visit our online store and browse our extensive line of over 320 unique products and accessories at: www.mytbird.com.
Or call us at 310-589-1000 and let us know what you’re looking for. We’re here to help!